Virginia Ironside’s Dilemmas: Our six-year-old twins want us to get married
Monday 26 October 2009
My partner and I have six-year-old twins, and they have suddenly started up this big thing about wanting us to get married. They keep nagging us about it. Their father and I have been living together for 10 years now and neither of us feels particularly strongly about it one way or the other. But do you think we should marry because they want it so much? It seems to matter a great deal to the children, for some reason.
Yours sincerely, Ruby
It's touching, isn't it, how concerned children can be about their parents' wellbeing. They hide our cigarette packets, watch with horror and concern as we down a third drink, and pat and stroke us when we are ill. (All that changes, of course, once they're teenagers, but still, yours haven't got to that stage, yet.)
And now your children want you to get married. Part of the desire must be, if either of your twins is a girl, that is, a longing for a ceremony, and a wanting to be a "lovely bridesmaid for mummy and daddy" – and why not? Part of the desire is, though, there can be no doubt, a longing for an added sense of security. They've read enough fairy tales and seen enough telly shows, to know that marriage is "for ever and ever after" and, who knows, even in these days when marriage isn't all that fashionable, there might be some children at school who, when they reveal that their parents are married, seem to say it with a certain smugness.
I don't know how much you and your partner row, but knowing you are married might stop your children from feeling so frightened when it happens.
And although you and your partner can take marriage or leave it, there are some advantages. If you were married, and you were to die, your partner would automatically keep the children. He would keep the children anyway, almost certainly, but it not be the completely easy transition he might wish, if some other member of your family disputed his right. Then if you are well off, there might be benefits on Capital Gains Tax. And if you were married, you'd each, were one of you to die, be able to inherit the estate without paying Inheritance Tax, which would be a huge saving.
There might be better deals on health insurance if you were to insure as a couple... and so on. And were you to break up, you'd still have to pay lawyers to sort everything out, were there a problem, whether you were married or not.
You might be surprised, too, to hear all your parents letting out a huge sigh of relief... most parents love to feel their children are married. It's nice to be a proper mother- or father-in-law rather than the partner's mum or dad.
Generally, marriage, unless it's between an heiress and a renowned fraudster or a rich old gentleman and a gold-digging blonde, is greeted as a Good Thing. So unless you and your partner feel that this pointless bit of paper (which is how, I suspect you now see it) might actually tend to drive you apart rather than keep you close – and there are instances of people who've lived together for years suddenly splitting up after they've married – then why not? At the very least your children, who are the ones who've brought the subject up, will feel a lot more relaxed than if you simply say, "No, we won't marry". That statement might really make them have sleepless nights.
What's worrying them?
I think is interesting that your children are twins. As one myself, I know that when we were young we used to have very long-lasting and deep discussions with each other. Hopes, fantasies and insecurities can get magnified in this way. Is there something at home that is making them feel insecure – tensions, rows, talk of leaving each other, comments from other relatives? They have probably already picked up on our generally accepted societal message that marriage is the key to happy, stable families, even if it is not necessarily correct. They could also be getting teased at school by other children in "proper" families where mum and dad are married.
I suggest you and partner seriously look at yourselves to see if problems in your own relationship are the reason for this call for you to be married, and also listen to the children to try to find out what is driving them. Certainly, it would be unwise to rush into a formal marriage until you were absolutely sure that it is what you and your partner really want.
Steyning, West Sussex
Children need marriage
The twins clearly have much more innate wisdom than their parents. The C of E Book of Common Prayer says about marriage: "First: It was ordained for the procreation of children ..." I don't want to sound like an old-fashioned religious bigot in our modern secular society, but maybe we've lost sight of an important truth about the best way to bring up children – within the matrimonial framework.
Clearly, Ruby and partner have established a stable relationship, and if they don't feel "strongly one way or the other" they should attend to the "mouths of the babes and sucklings" and give them the casting vote. Go on, get married, and rejoice with whatever bridesmaid/page boy combination you will have at the ceremony.
It's not their decision
Goodness, what power these twins would have if you married just because they want you to. As a grandmother of twins I know just how engaging, delightful yet hard work they are, and you will do any thing for peace. But hold on there, we're talking marriage, which you only enter when and if both of you desire it. Perhaps they can detect your indecision, so make your minds up, let them know and then stick to it. They will soon move on to something else. Don't give them the power. Whatever would it be next – moving house, emigrating? It's your decision, not theirs. You are in charge, so you take charge!
Make up your minds
I don't think you should get married because your children ask you to. That would give them inappropriate power. It seems, though, that your children are anxious. Unless you gently probe what underlies their desire you will not find out and, if possible, be able to reassure them. Furthermore, there is no such thing as a "common-law wife" legally and you need to be aware of the lack of financial entitlement should the relationship with your partner break down. If you have addressed all these issues and still have no desire to marry, that is fine. However, it is important for you and your children's future welfare that a conscious and informed decision is made. Young though they are, your children may be alerting you to a real problem.
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